Sammanfattning av publikation

Johannesson, 2012 🔗

Performing Credibility : Assessments of Asylum Claims in Swedish Migration Courts

Year: 2012

Type of text: Academic article

Published by:  Retfaerd. Nordisk Juridisk Tidskrift

Language: English

Author: Livia Johannesson

Pages: 15

Available at:

Short description of text:

‘The  overall  aim  of  this  study  is  to  investigate  how  non-credibility  is  justified  in  court  decisions  on  asylum  claims,  as  it  is  a  particularly  decisive  component  of  the  overall  adjudication  process  in  these  cases’ (p. 70). 

Most important results

– ‘All  decision  in  this  sample  where  rejected with  reference  to  one  or  several  of  the formal principles for determining credibility that is stipulated in judicial handbooks. Five of the applications lacked any kind of documentation, including identity cards or passports 
 In the court decisions, it was  frequently  stressed  that  the  applicants  lacking  documents  may  deliberately  be withholding  information,  which  resulted  in undermining  the  applicants’  credibility in the eyes of the court. In two of the decisions that had documents submitted, the Migration  Board  and  the  court  suspected  the  documents  to  be  fabricated.  This  severely undermined these two applicants’ credibility in general. Additionally, inability to meet formal principles that had to do with the way the asylum narrative was presented  was  a  common  reason  for  assessing  the  applicants  as  non-credible.  This included articulation about including facts in the narrative that did not comply with general  facts,  telling  the  narrative  without details,  or  changing  any  details  of  the narrative from one hearing to the next throughout the process’ (p. 75-6).

– The country information  in the digital information database Lifos ‘was  the  main  source  of  »general known  facts«  that  the  adjudicators  referred  to  when  opposing  a  statement  of  the  applicant (and thereby undermining her or his credibility). 

It was obvious that the information from Lifos and the accounts from the applicants  were  not  considered  to  have  the  same  reliability  in  the  eyes  of  the  court.  In fact,  it  appeared  that  the  information  from  Lifos  was  taken  as  an  unquestionable truth  by  the  migration  court.  Nowhere  in the  decisions  was  any  discussion  about how reliable or up to date the information from Lifos could be considered to be, or to  what  extent  an  individual  asylum  narrative  could  be  required  to  correspond  to the  general  statements  and  snapshot  images that  an  international  expert  report could muster. In two examples from two different court decisions it was particularly evident  that  cultural  norms  that  were  stated in  a  Lifos  report  were  treated  as  evidence for asylum narratives being unreliable 
  In  both  of  these  examples  general  categories  such  as  »women/men«  and »Shia/Sunni/Greek Orthodox« were perceived as fixed and static, and any variation within or between them was not taken into account. This shows how abstract categorizations  can  be  used  in  a  very  concrete  way  to  exclude  subjects  that  do  not  fall within  the  majority  description  of  that  category 
 These examples illuminate the often-irreversible consequences that single formulations  from  one  or  a  few  sources  can  have for  large  groups  of  asylum  applicants’ chances  to  be  understood  as  credible … Following from this confusion of what is locally known with what is necessary universally  true,  is  that  asylum  narratives  have  two  contradictory  criteria  to  live  up  to  in order to be conceived as credible. The first is to be recognized as authentic and self-experienced,  and  the  other  is  to  be  coherent  with  the  information  that  the  Migration Board has access to from the Lifos database, no matter how up to date or well confirmed  that  information  is.  Another  contradiction  arises  as  the  information  in  Lifos tries to capture the most significant norms and behavioral patterns in a specific region or country. That information is then used to evaluate the credibility of individual asylum narratives. The problem is that peoples’ motives for fleeing often have to do with their inability to live according to the norms and behaviors that govern their  surroundings’ (p. 77-78).

– ‘[…] credibility assessments frequently were grounded in general presumptions about how individual asylum applicants should behave according to the general categories gender, education, and religion,  without  references  to  any  particular source  of  knowledge.  In  these  occasions, the  frames  of  intelligibility  were  not  constructed  around  existing  information  from Lifos, but consisted of much more informal presumptions of what type of proper conduct that was attached to different identity categories. 

Level of education was one of the categories that appeared as something that the plausibility of the asylum narratives was measured against […]

There were three decisions in the sample that included statements about honorrelated  cultures.  The  analysis  of  these  statements  revealed  that  the  migration  authorities  had  presumptions  about  certain  types  of  logics  that  govern  these  kinds  of cultural  expressions,  without  explicitly  referring to any particular source of information” (p. 78-9). 

  • ‘What was apparent from these statements was that profoundly unstable catego-

rizations  such  as  religious  affiliation,  gender,  and  culture  were  perceived  as  stable and  essential.  The  intersectional  analysis suggests  that  the  legal  discourse  leaks  of informal  presumptions  about  how  structural  categories  determine  proper  conduct for  individual  asylum  applicants.  These  presumptions  were  occasionally  formalized by  references  to  expert  reports,  but  more often  it  was  just  an  unconfirmed,  but seemingly  taken  for  granted,  general  assumption  about  how  people  in  other  countries behave according to certain general categories such as gender or religion’ (p. 80). 

– ‘At  the  same  time  as  the  migration  court procedure puts a lot of effort into defining the applicants according to various kinds of identity categories with more or less explicit presumptions attached to them, the position possessed by the Migration Board remains to a large extent silent and unmarked.  Consequently,  it  is  much  easier  to  aspire  to  neutrality  and  impartiality from  the  position  of  the  Migration  Board  than  it  is  from  the  position  of  the  gendered and »culturalized« asylum applicant. The position of the asylum applicant has emerged  because  of  the  asylum  applicant’s  interest  in  obtaining  permission  to  stay in Sweden, and therefore that position is tied to a partial interest: i.e. the interest to stay. The position of the Migration Board is not supposed to have any particular interest  tied  to  it,  except  for  the  interest of  following  the  regulations  that  define  the  authority’s  legitimate  actions.  However,  in  the  court  procedure,  the  Migration Board  takes  on  the  role  of  being  in  opposition  to  the  asylum  applicant,  and  therefore is assigned the interest of not letting the applicant stay. In that way, the neutral position of the Migration Board is transformed to a partial position in the court procedure’ (p. 82). 

– ‘The analysis suggests that  the  way  that  informal  presumptions about  categorizations  were  articulated  in the decisions indicated that they actively limited the possibilities for unique and deviant  asylum  narratives  to  get  recognized  as credible  in  the  court  procedure.  This argument builds on three major conclusions drawn from this study. Firstly, the information contained in the Lifos database was treated as neutral and objective facts by the migration court, even when the sources consisted of briefly conducted reports about  essentially  contested  issues  such  as  the  scope  and  character  of  honor-related violence  in  a  country.  Secondly,  the  migration  court  relied  on  informal  presumptions  about  how  categories  determined  proper  conduct  in  various  cultural  settings when  making  judgments  about  asylum  applicants’  credibility 
 Thirdly, the courts rejected to take notice of  the  applicants’  occasional  attempts  to mark  the  Migration  Board  as  culturally specific  and  thereby  a  non-neutral  counterpart.  The  consequence  of  letting  presumptions about categorizations such as gender, education, religion and culture intervene  in  the  justifications  for  rejections was  that  the  applicants’  abilities  to  perform  credibility  in  the  court  procedure  were  constrained  and  directly  affected  by how  the  frames  of  intelligibility  at  the  Swedish  migration  authorities  were  constructed’ (p. 83). 

Theoretical perspective/framework

Intersectional  approach  focusing on the performative aspects of identity formations and situated identity constructions embedded in wider webs of power relations.


‘The  method  used  to  explore  how subjects are defined and marked with categorizations in the court decisions is  inspired  by  discursive  psychology,  which enables analysis of daily practices at a micro level (s. 73). 

Analysis of court decisions from 2010 of asylum cases appealed at the Migration Court of Appeal, ‘where the sufficiency-criteria are fulfilled but the credibility-criteria are presented as the basis for rejection’ and ‘where oral hearings had been held at the courts, as this indicates that credibility was decisive for the decision’, supplemented with a few decisions from 2009 and 2007, where these cases had been sent back for a new trial at the migration courts due to inaccuracies in the oral  procedure’ (p. 75). In total ‘a sample of nine  decisions  on  rejection  which  all had  an  oral  hearing  at  the  court  because  the  credibility  of  the  applicant  had  been questioned  by  the  Migration  Board,  however  not  the  sufficiency  of  the  asylum claims (p. 75). 

Summarized by: Alva Nissen